Stopping Keystone XL is not just symbolic

Often, protests and acts of civil disobedience are primarily designed to raise public attention about an important issue. The protests in Washington against the Keystone XL pipeline will do that. They could also have a substantial real-world effect if they succeed.

The Keystone XL pipeline would be a gigantic carbon highway, transferring carbon from the oil sands of Alberta where it is now safely buried to oil refineries, gas tanks, engines, and ultimately the atmosphere. There, it will cause warming that will persist for thousands of years. Keystone would perpetuate our fossil fuel addiction.

If Keystone is blocked, less carbon will be emitted between now and when the world finally comes to its senses and gets serious about climate change and moving beyond fossil fuels.

Keystone XL is also a waste. When the world does get serious about the need to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere, it will need to be shut down. That will be economically wasteful and politically difficult. It would be far wiser to invest now in improving energy efficiency and producing energy from safe zero carbon sources.

Hopefully, the protests starting tomorrow will press President Obama to take these arguments seriously and say no to the dirtiest and most dangerous oil in the world.

8 thoughts on “Stopping Keystone XL is not just symbolic

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    And so, backs to the wall, North American environmentalists are now fighting a simpler, more basic battle — not for overhauling laws and economies, but simply to keep carbon in the ground. It’s not an elegant battle with lots of complicated legislation; it is an elemental one, easy to understand, worth going to jail for. We know that we’re simply buying time — given enough years and a high enough price, Canada and everyone else will figure out some way to get oil and coal out of the ground. But if we can stop them, maybe the planet will come to its senses about global warming. Maybe we’ll be able to look at things like Australia’s about-to-be-passed carbon price and see it working (or not, since big energy is doing everything it can to weaken its provisions). Maybe we’ll get scared enough to get serious. Maybe the time we’re buying is precious.

    For now, it’s a desperate battle to keep things from getting worse. We fight coal plants and coal mines, tanker ports and pipelines. Keystone XL is such a huge deal because the president can actually stop it himself, without consulting our inane Congress. That’s why we’ll be surrounding the White House on Nov. 6, circling it with people simply holding signs with quotes from his campaign. Like, “it’s time to end the tyranny of oil.” It sure is, and if Obama for once actually lives up to his words, just maybe it will signal something new about him. My guess is we’re not going to change meteorology or geology, which leaves us with politics.

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    The State Department — and read this carefully, because it’s almost beyond belief — asked TransCanada who they would like to have conduct the “independent” pipeline review. TransCanada submitted the name of three firms, and State helpfully chose the first one on the list: Entrix Corporation. If you head over to their web site, you’ll find that TransCanada is listed as one of the company’s “major clients.”

    The Times called this “flouting the intent of a federal law.” You could say it was like hiring Fox Associates for a security study of Henhouse Inc. It’s hard to imagine even the Bush administration doing anything quite this blatant — it makes a complete and utter mockery of the idea of independent review.

    It also helps explain how the review found that there would be “minimal” environmental impact, even though we’re still cleaning up the Kalamazoo and Yellowstone rivers from big leaks of tar sands crude. Even though 20 of the nation’s top scientists sent the president a letter saying the pipeline was in neither the nation’s nor the planet’s best interest. Even though our most important federal climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, wrote recently that heavily tapping tar sands for oil would mean it was “essentially game over” for the climate.

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    As the military’s senior logistician in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, I saw the impact of our oil addition in the Iraq combat zone. Our appetite for fuel wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, transfers $1 billion daily in our wealth to the Middle East, and puts our soldiers at risk. The fuel trucks we depend upon provide hundreds of convenient rolling targets for our enemy. My experiences in Iraq convinced me that the greatest threat to our security is our over-reliance on oil and that Americans must immediately take steps to cut our petro-addiction before it’s too late.

    The Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t help. This pipeline would move dirty oil from Canada to refineries in Texas and would set back our renewable energy efforts for at least two decades, much to our enemies’ delight. It would ensure we maintain our oil addiction and delay making the tough decisions regarding energy production, management and conservation that we need to start making today.

    Transcanada, the company that would own the pipeline, makes various claims about the pipeline’s supposed security benefits. It claims the pipeline will reduce dependence on Mideast oil, that tar sands will feed a growing US demand, and that it will provide a supply cushion in times of natural or man-made disasters. None of these claims holds up. Transcanada says the project will supply roughly half of the amount of oil the US imports from the Middle East and Venezuela – but conveniently leaves out a crucial detail: This tar sands oil will not reduce imports from those nations.

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  6. Milan Post author

    Here is one souvenir I brought back from Washington, my copy of Bill McKibben’s American Earth anthology, signed by him outside the White House on the morning when he got arrested:

    Once I am done with the GRE, I really need to finish uploading my Washington photos

  7. Pingback: Keystone XL rejected

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    Jaime Watt joins Power & Politics host Evan Solomon each week to look at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians.

    Monitoring the House of Commons’ question period, mainstream media and the conversation on social media, Watt and his team at Navigator Ltd. determine which issues gained the most attention in official Ottawa, and then measure how much traction those issues managed to find with Canadians outside the nation’s capital.

    With the House of Commons still on its extended winter break, discussion in Ottawa centred on questions of Liberal leadership around the party’s biennial convention in Ottawa, along with the premiers conference on health care and the Obama administration’s decision not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline application.

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